Rulon Gardner on returning to wrestling training, getting his gold medal back

Rulon Gardner
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NEW YORK — Rulon Gardner said he’s lost a little weight, but there’s still plenty of work ahead. He’d like to live to 80 years old, start a family and get his Olympic gold medal back.

In 2000, Gardner pulled off one of the great upsets in Olympic history, dethroning chiseled Russian Aleksander Karelin in the Greco-Roman super heavyweight wrestling final. Karelin, the three-time defending Olympic champion, hadn’t lost in international competition in 13 years nor given up a point in six.

Gardner since lost the middle toe on his right foot due to frostbite after being stranded in a 2002 snowmobile accident in his native Wyoming. He lived through a motorcycle accident and plane crash.

He went on “The Biggest Loser” at 474 pounds and attempted to lose more than 200 pounds to make weight for the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials at age 40. He reportedly said he got down to 280, missing the Olympic heavyweight limit of 264.5 and gained about 100 pounds back by June 2014, according to the Deseret News.

Since the Olympic trials, Gardner filed for bankrupty and parted with his 2000 Olympic gold medal and 2004 Olympic bronze medal among many other possessions.

On Thursday, Gardner dressed in a suit and tie to cover USA Wrestling’s “Beat the Streets” against Cuba in Times Square for NBCSN. He was stopped for autographs and pictures, unmistakable for he looked bigger than any of the wrestlers competing.

Gardner spoke with OlympicTalk before the meet:

OlympicTalk: You said during the winter you were doing wrestling training again to get back in shape and, last summer, that you would possibly go for the 2016 Olympic trials. How’s that going?

Gardner: I’m still going with, actually, a real good coach from Central High School in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a guy named Drew Severen [the school’s football coach]. I’ve been working out with him, training with him, kind of day-in, day-out, when I have time.

OlympicTalk: How many hours per day?

Gardner: I’m about an hour and a half. If I’m going to try to get back into healthy shape, wrestling shape, you’ve got to spend a good probably three to five hours a day in the wrestling room. Getting that time is hard to do, but if you’re going to get in shape and be a good wrestler, you’ve got to put the time in. Being an Olympic champion, I know I weigh too much now. I’ve got to get healthier and get my weight down.

OlympicTalk: What inspired you to return to wrestling training?

Gardner: I’m 43 years old now, and if I’m going to live to, hopefully, be 80 years old, I’ve got to get healthy. My wife [who has experience as a fitness and weight-loss instructor], she inspired me to work hard and get my weight down. We want to have a family. So, ultimately, for me to be around, and to stay on this earth for long enough, to have a family, I’ve got to get my weight down. So those are probably the biggest inspirations. But then ultimately, to be looked upon by youth wrestlers and that kind of stuff. I need to be a good ambassador of the sport. You’ve got to look the part of a wrestler, and you’ve got to act the part.

OlympicTalk: How realistic is it that you can make it to the Olympic trials?

Gardner: I just took a new position at my job. It’s still a thought out there. I don’t know how realistic it is at this point. At some point, you’ve got to take your career and run with it. If I don’t get on the mat to compete to win, I want to get on the mat to be healthy. At the end of the day, winning the Olympics is something that’s not even in my ideals. But to be healthy enough to make weight for the Olympics is really what I’m after most of all. If I ever did get [my weight] down, and I was able to spend the time and do it, I’d love to go to the Olympic trials. I don’t know if I’d be able to compete and win them, but I’d like to be able to at least be healthy enough to get there.

OlympicTalk: Have you lost weight? What do you weigh now?

Gardner: I’ve lost a little bit of weight, but most of my focus has been with my work. I’m a medical device rep, so I’m in the OR. I’m helping doctors. In a day, I’ll have like four or five surgeries. So you’re getting up at 4 a.m., doing cases all day and then coming back at night, you’re missing wrestling practice. You’ve got to have that discipline. Winter time, being in Wyoming, you don’t ever want to go outside for a run. Summer time, it’s always easier to get out and exercise, and I love being outside. I’ve started doing more of that, more of the running and the jogging. I’ve just got to be healthier and more active.

OlympicTalk: When was the last time you saw or spoke to Karelin?

Gardner: In Beijing [at the 2008 Olympics]. He actually was right in front of me for the whole 20 days of the Olympics [both doing TV work]. So I saw him every day. Just the intimidation factor of him walking in. We did an interview, and it was classic because even though he’s from Russia, he’s so smart, he’s so eloquent in everything he does. He speaks six languages. He was joking with us.

OlympicTalk: Jordan Burroughs is trying to repeat as Olympic champion with strong domestic competition, similar to what you went through in 2004. What do you think of him?

Gardner: I think he’s doing the right thing. He’s looking forward. He’s not looking back. Because once you start looking to see who’s biting at your heels, you start slowing down your acceleration. That’s the one thing about Jordan. I don’t think he’s ever taken the foot off the accelerator.

OlympicTalk: Do you still have your amputated toe?

Gardner: I actually have it in a bottle of formaldehyde. I have that in my refrigerator. People kind of get disgusted. They’re like, why do you have it? You know what, it’s a great reminder of me being irresponsible and foolish and stupid because I made a mistake. I didn’t have my correct gear. I wasn’t prepared to be in the mountains. When I look about being stupid and making bad decisions, I look at my toe, and it reminds me.

OlympicTalk: Are you trying to get your gold medal back?

Gardner: It was actually saved by an individual who actually had helped me out when I was on “The Biggest Loser.” He still has it. If I get another $20,000, I’ll have my gold medal back.

OlympicTalk: How much do you want it?

Gardner: I’m not complete without it. Everybody’s like, oh, the gold medal, it’s his only thing that matters. I have a lot of things that matter to me. I don’t have my Olympic rings and stuff. They sold those, but I don’t care about that stuff. The gold medal, that’s something that was really special to me because of who I beat.

OlympicTalk: You’ve given speeches to schools and kids. What’s the overall message?

Gardner: I talk about seven steps that I utilized in my life to overcome obstacles. I had a learning disability. I wasn’t supposed to go to college. I wasn’t supposed to go and graduate [he did, from Nebraska]. I wasn’t even supposed to go to the Olympics. I finally made the Olympic team in 2000, won the gold medal and accomplished that goal. I’ve continued to learn and gone through adversity. What do you do? You get back up. You have a bad test. You lose an athletic event. These young athletes, you get knocked down. What do you do? You get back up. Life is about obstacles and opportunity. For me, I looked at the match with Karelin as being an opportunity to reach my pinnacle. Some people might have thought about it as an obstacle for success. I thought it was an opportunity, turned it into a positive, won the match and won the Olympics. That’s all about how you perceive life. A lot of kids don’t believe in themselves. That’s the worst thing you can ever do.

Photos: U.S.-Cuba wrestling in Times Square

Chloe Kim, Elana Meyers Taylor among Olympians to join presidential sports council

Elana Meyers Taylor, President Joe Biden
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Chloe Kim and Elana Meyers Taylor are among the Olympic and Paralympic medalists set to join the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, & Nutrition.

President Joe Biden intends to appoint the snowboarder Kim, bobsledder Meyers Taylor, retired Olympic medalists Chaunté Lowe (track and field) and Tamika Catchings (basketball) and Paralympic medalist Melissa Stockwell (triathlon) to the council, among other athletes and people in the health and fitness fields, it was announced Friday.

Stephen and Ayesha Curry are also on the list.

The council “aims to promote healthy, accessible eating and physical activity for all Americans, regardless of background or ability.”

Last year, Biden appointed basketball gold medalist Elena Delle Donne a co-chair of the council.

Kim, the two-time reigning Olympic halfpipe champion, sat out this past season but is expected to return to competition for a third Olympic run in 2026.

Meyers Taylor, the most decorated U.S. Olympic bobsledder in history with medals in all five of her Olympic events, sat out this past season due to pregnancy. She took her first bobsled run in 13 months this past week in Lake Placid, New York.

There is a long history of Olympians and Paralympians serving on the council, which was created in 1956.

In 2017, Barack Obama appointed medalists including gymnast Gabby Douglas, soccer player Carli Lloyd and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.

Others to previously be on the council include sprinter Allyson Felix, figure skater Michelle Kwan and swimmer and triathlete Brad Snyder.

Members serve for two years and can be reappointed.

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Kaori Sakamoto wins figure skating worlds; top American places fourth

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Kaori Sakamoto overcame a late error in her free skate to become the first Japanese figure skater to win back-to-back world titles and the oldest women’s world champion since 2014.

Sakamoto, 22, totaled 224.61 points on home ice in Saitama to prevail by 3.67 over Lee Hae-In of South Korea in the closest women’s finish at worlds since 2011.

Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx took bronze, edging 16-year-old American Isabeau Levito for a medal by 2.77 points.

Sakamoto is the oldest women’s singles world champion since Mao Asada (2014), who is now the only Japanese skater with more world titles than Sakamoto.

She appeared en route to an easier victory until singling a planned triple flip late in her free skate, which put the gold in doubt. She can be thankful for pulling off the second jump of that planned combination — a triple toe loop — and her 5.62-point lead from Wednesday’s short program.

“I feel so pathetic and thought, what was all that hard work I put into my training?” Sakamoto said of her mistake, according to the International Skating Union (ISU). “But I was able to refocus and do my best till the end.

“Because I have this feeling of regret at the biggest event of the season, I want to make sure I don’t have this feeling next season. So I want to practice even harder, and I want to make sure to do clean, perfect performances at every competition.”

Lee, who had the top free skate, became the second South Korean to win a world medal in any discipline after six-time medalist Yuna Kim.

Hendrickx followed her silver from last year, when she became the first Belgian women’s singles skater to win a world medal.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Levito, last year’s world junior champion, had a chance to become the youngest senior world medalist since 2014.

After a solid short program, she fell on her opening triple Lutz in the free skate and left points on the table by performing two jump combinations rather than three. The Lutz was planned to be the first half of a combination with a triple loop.

“I am severely disappointed because I’ve been nailing my Lutz-loop for a really long time, and this is the first time I’ve messed it up in a while, and of course it had to be when it actually counted,” Levito said, according to the ISU. “But I’m pretty happy with myself for just trying to move past it and focusing on making the most out of the rest of the program.”

Levito entered worlds ranked fourth in the field by best score this season. She matched the best finish for a U.S. woman in her senior global championships debut (Olympics and worlds) since Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan took silver and bronze at the 1991 Worlds. Sasha Cohen, to whom Levito is often compared, also placed fourth in her Olympic and world debuts in 2002.

“I feel very proud for myself and grateful for my coaching team for helping me get this far so far in my skating career, and I’m just very proud to be where I am,” Levito said on USA Network.

American Amber Glenn was 12th in her world debut. Two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell was 15th. They had been 10th and eighth, respectively, in the short program.

The U.S. qualified two women’s spots for next year’s worlds rather than the maximum three because the top two Americans’ results added up to more than 13 (Levito’s fourth plus Glenn’s 12th equaled 16). The U.S. was in position to qualify three spots after the short program.

Glenn said after the short program that she had a very difficult two weeks before worlds, including “out-of-nowhere accidents and coincidences that could have prevented me from being here,” and boot problems that affected her triple Axel. She attempted a triple Axel in the free skate, spinning out of an under-rotated, two-footed landing.

Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022, had several jumping errors in the free skate.

“This season has been like one thing after another,” said the 25-year-old Tennell, who plans to compete through the 2026 Winter Games. “I’m really excited to get back and work on some stuff for the new season.”

Earlier, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates topped the rhythm dance, starting their bid for a first world title in their 12th season together and after three prior world silver or bronze medals.

“We skated as best we possibly could today,” Bates said, according to the ISU, after they tallied the world’s top score this season.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White are the lone U.S. ice dancers to win a world title, doing so in 2011 and 2013.

Worlds continue Friday night (U.S. time) with the free dance, followed Saturday morning with the men’s free skate, live on Peacock and USA Network.

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